Category Archives: Bellour

Pompidou Planète Marker Video Archive

It’s been a great pleasure, having been unable to attend the Centre Pompidou’s 2013 Chris Marker exhibition and retrospective, to witness the appearance on Daily Motion of videos of the talks that were held, as well as a wonderfully edited overall / intro video that emerges us in Marker’s visual world. While a longer post is in progress on the series and the practice of video archiving, I did want to present the intro video first, as a kind of teaser and work of art unto itself.

Planète Marker – du 16 octobre 2013 au 22 décembre 2013

Planète Marker – du 16 octobre 2013 au 22… by centrepompidou

Par Raymond Bellour, écrivain et théoricien de cinéma.
Le Centre Pompidou et la Bibliothèque publique d’information (Bpi) rendent hommage à Chris Marker, à travers ses films bien sûr mais aussi en suivant la piste de ses inspirations, de ses amitiés et de ses rencontres… Au coeur de ce voyage, l’exposition de ses installations et des oeuvres multimédias rassemblées dans la collection du Centre Pompidou, ses films et vidéos et un salon de lecture à la | Centre Pompidou channel

The Unattainable Text by Raymond Bellour

The Unattainable Text

Raymond Bellour

rue Courat, Chris Marker, M. Chat

That the film is a text, in the sense in which Barthes uses the word, is obvious enough. That as such it might, or should, receive the same kind of attention as has been devoted to the literary text is also obvious. But already not quite so obvious. We shall soon see why.

The text of the film is indeed an unattainable text. In saying this, despite the temptation of a play on words, I do not mean to evoke the special difficulties which very of ten make it impossible to obtain the film in the material sense or the proper conditions to constitute it into a text, ie the editing table or the projector with freeze-frame facility. These difficulties are still enormous: they are very often discouraging, and go a long way to explaining .the com­ parative backwardness of film studies. However, one can imagine, if still only hypothetically, that one day, at the price of a few changes, the film will find something that is hard to express, a status analogous to that of the book or rather that of the gramo­ phone record with respect to the concert. If film studies are still done then, they will undoubtedly be more numerous, more imagina­tive, more accurate and above all more enjoyable than the ones we carry out in fear and trembling. threatened continually with dis­possession of the object. And yet, curious as it might seem, the situation of the film analyst, even when he does possess the film, any film, will not change in every particular.

I shall not linger over the indisputable fact that one does not have the text, the ‘methodological field’, the ‘production’, the ‘traversal’, as Barthes puts it, when one has the work, the ‘fragment of substance’.1 But without going into the theoretical labyrinths opened up by the notion of the text, I shall stress two things. On the one hand the material possession of the work alone permits one full access to the textual fiction, since it alone allows one a full experience of the multiplicity of operations carried out in the work and makes it precisely into a text. On the other, as soon as one studies a work, quotes a fragment of it, one has implicitly taken up a textual perspective, even if feebly and one­-dimensionally, even if in a restrictive and regressive fashion, even if one continues to close the text back onto itself although it is, as Barthes has insisted, and before him, Blanchot, the locus of an unbounded openness. That is why it is possible, in a slide which is both justified and somewhat abusive, like all slides, to speak of quoting the text when by text one means work, even if at a later stage one may be driven, as Barthes has been, to think the literary experience from the starting-point of an opposition between the work and the text. In connection with these terms, but without evading them, I should just like to emphasise here an elementary fatality: the text of the film is unattainable because it is an unquotable text. To this extent, and to this extent only, the word text as applied to film is metaphorical; it clearly pin-points the paradox which inflicts the filmic text and to such a degree only the filmic text.

When one chooses to read, to study a work, to recognize in it the pressure of the text, so close in a sense to what Blanchot has conceptualized as literature, nothing is more immediate, simpler than to quote a word, a phrase, a few lines, a sentence, a page. Omit the quotation marks that signal it and the quotation is invisible, it is quite naturally absorbed into the page. Despite the change of regime it introduces, it does not really break up the reading; it even helps to make description, analysis a special form of discourse, in the best of cases a new text, by a reduplication whose fascination has been fully felt by modern thought. This effect is obviously peculiar to the literary work, more generally to the written work, and to it alone. It lies in the undivided conformity of the object of study and the means of study, in the absolute material coincidence between language and language. That is why only the written work was able to provide, so to speak, a pretext for a theory of the text, or at least for the first effects of its practice. That is why Barthes so strongly distrusts everything that escapes the written, for the meta-language effect is more tangible there, by definition. Indeed, the more one speaks ‘about’ an object the less one can draw it into the material body of the commentary. At the same time this is obviously to emphasise the absolute privilege of written expression in this conversion of the work into a text. The material reality of a commentary which in its turn comes to have more or less the function of a text constitutes the necessary mediation for this transmutation which in the last instance would like to appear in the absolute guise of a play. That is to say that in fact it aims for an integral reconciliation between language and language, and between the subject and the subject, receiving from the exteriority of language the absolution that would restore it to its desire. For clarity’s sake, one thing should be remembered. This idea arises with the joint emergence of the two concepts literature and science of literature. It arose for the first time, in a still uncertain fashion, with romanticism and the beginnings of literary criticism; a second time at the tum of the century in the first great mutual concussion of literature and the human sciences, in Nietzsche and Mallarme, Freud and Saussure; a third time today under the internal and external pressure exercised on literature by what Barthes has called ‘ the conjoint action of Marxism, psychoanalysis and structuralism ‘. To sum up, let us say that the science of literature has enabled us to recognise in the work the reality and the utopia of the text, but this movement has no meaning unless it dissolves the science into the body of its object, to the extent, in the ideal case, of abolishing any divergence between science and literature, analysis and the work.2

It is from the starting point of this both real and mythical level that the apparently quite secondary fact of the possibility of quotation turns out to assign a paradoxical specificity to the cinematic text. The written text is the only one that can be quoted unimpededly and unreservedly. But the filmic text does not have the same differential relations with the written text as the pictorial text, the musical text, the theatrical text (and all the intermediate mixed texts they give rise to). The pictorial text is in fact a quotable text. No doubt the quotation stands out in its heterogeneity, its difference; no doubt there are many material difficulties in its way, difficulties expressing the specifically material loss undergone by the work from the very fact of its reproduction. The format of the book in particular, always reductive, obviously produces an inevitable distortion through the disproportion between the original and its reproduction. But the quotation is on the other hand perfectly satisfactory, allowing a remarkable play on the detail with respect to the whole. From the critical point of view it has one advantage that only painting possesses: one can see and take in the work at one glance. Which literary analysis cannot do, except when it has as its object short poems in which vision and reading are superimposed (e.g. Ruwet’s, Uvi-Strauss’s and Jakobson’s analy­ses of Baudelaire sonnets). Beyond these, even when it chooses to quote ‘the whole text’ in limit-case experiments like Barthes’s in S/Z, it can only rediscover the inevitable linearity of the written. The musical text, conversely, sets two obstacles in the way of quotation. First, at the level of the score. This is certainly quotable, in whole or in part, like the literary text. But it opposes an infinitely greater heterogeneity to language than that of the picture; that of a specific codification whose extreme technicality marks a break. On the other hand, and much more profoundly (for a society in which everyone could read music is conceivable – was this not the case in the micro-societies of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie?), the musical text is divided, since the score is not the performance. But sound cannot be quoted. It cannot be described or evoked. In this the musical text is irreducible to the text, even if it is, metaphorically, and in reality thanks to the plurality of its operations, just as textual as the literary text. With the one difference that it cannot really be experienced except by hearing it, and never by analysing it, subjecting it to a reading, since then one is no longer hearing it, or only hearing it virtually. Finally, one last problem and not the least: the score is fixed but performance changes. Some more or less aleatoric types of modem music which increase this gap between score and performance take the phenomenon to an extreme, but do not change its terms. The work is unstable. In a sense this mobility increases even further the degree of textuality of the musical work, since the text, as Barthes has said again and again, is mobility itself. But by a kind of paradox, this mobility cannot be reduced to the language which attempts to grasp it in order to bring it out by duplication. In this the musical text is less textual than are the pictorial text and above all the literary text, whose mobility is in some sense inversely proportional to the fixity of the work. The possibility of keeping to the letter of the text is in fact the condition of its possibility.

The theatrical text demonstrates the same paradox and the same division, although in a different way. On the one hand, the work, the text in the ordinary sense of the term, can be reduced un­ equivocally to the problematic of the literary text, except that the play more or less inevitably brings with it the absence of its performance. On the other, the performance creates a mobile text, as open and aleatoric as that of the musical text. A mise-en-scène can be discussed, its principles stated, its novelty, its uniqueness felt, but it cannot really be described or quoted. Its textuality, though indisputable, escapes the text once again through its infinite mobility, the too radical divergence between the text which provides it with a pretext and a material and vocal figurability without any real delimitation. At most, just as the gramophone record has become the fixed memory of the concert, making an end if not of the variety of interpretations, at least of the internal variability of each performance, one might imagine fixing some mise-en-scène, as has been done on all too few occasions, by the only means apt to reproduce it: the film. Which, pushing aside the problem of the theatre, automatically reinforces the paradoxical uniqueness of the cinema.

Indeed, the film presents the remarkable specialty, for a spectacle, of being a fixed work. The scenario, the initial technical cut, are indeed not absolutely comparable with the score or the theatrical play. They are pro-texts, as, without being similar, plans and drafts are for the written work, sketches for a picture. Per­formance, in the film, is annihilated in the same way, to the advantage of the immutability of the work. This immutability, as we have seen, is a paradoxical precondition for the conversion of the work into a text, insofar as, if only by the abutment it constitutes, it favors the possibility of a voyage through language which unties and reties the many operations by which the work is made into a text. But this movement, which brings the film closer to the picture and the book, is at the same time a broadly contradictory one: indeed, the text of the film never fails to escape the language that constitutes it. In a sense one can no more quote a film than one can a musical work or a theatrical production. However, this is not quite true. The analysis of the film suffers the force of this paradox, which derives from the perfect delimit­ ation of the work, but equally from the mixture of materials whose location is the cinema.

Once it is a talking cinema, it conjoins five matters of expression, as Christian Metz has shown: phonetic sound, written titles, musical sound. noises, the moving photographic image. The first two of these pose no apparent problems for quotation. Nothing is more easily reproduced than the dialogue of a film: publishers know what they are doing when they imply, as they often do, that they are recreating the film for us by printing its dialogue and playing a dubious game with the image to recreate that absolutely illusory thing known as its story. But it is quite obvious that something is lost thereby: written titles belong fully to the written, dialogue both to sound and to the written (it was written before being spoken, and even if it is improvised, it can be transcribed, since it does not change). Thus it undergoes a considerable reduc­tion as soon as it is quoted: it loses tone, intensities, timbres, pitches, everything that constitutes the profound solidity of the voice. The same is true of noises, except that it is much less easy to reduce them to the signified, since this reduction can only be a translation, a kind of paraphrastic evocation. In this respect, what might be called motivated noise, which can always be evoked more or less since it indicates the real, should always be distinguished from arbitrary noise, which can go so far as to serve as a score, then escaping all translatability since it is not even codified as the musical score is (confining ourselves for simplifi­cation’s sake to music in which the score is still truly determinant). Note that these are only two extremes, extremes which can be inverted: an arbitrary, but simple noise can be delimited, while a motivated but over-complex one cannot. How in an analysis is one to deal with the noise band of a film like La mort en ce jardin, for example, made up solely of the noises of the Amazon forest, but so rich that it substitutes more or less for music? The bird calls in The Birds can be thought of in the same way; orchestrated by Robert Burks, thanks to the possibilities of electronic sound, they constitute a true score in this film from which music is apparently absent. In short, noise constitutes a greater obstacle to the textuality of the film the more it is one of the major instru­ments of its textual materiality. Musical sound obviously takes this divergence between text and text to the extreme: given the specifications implied by the phenomenon of combination which makes film music not a work in itself but an internal dimension of the work, we have here again the problems posed in this respect by musical works. With one difference, and by no means a negligible one. If the division between score and performance, code and sound, remains an integral one, here the musical text is received, thanks to a petrifaction seemingly opposed to its very virtuality, in that immutability of the work which defines the film.

There remains the image. And with it, rightly or wrongly, the essential. First for a historical reason: for thirty years, with the indispensable support of written titles (and not counting the inter­ mittent assistance of a music outside the material specificity of the work), it represented the film, all films: the cinema. To the extent that even today it is too of ten confused with it, by an excessive simplification the a priori assumptions of which have been unraveled by Christian Metz. The unique situation of the image among the cinema’s matters of expression will perhaps allow us, if not to excuse this excess, at least to understand it. The image is indeed located, with respect to the echo it might receive from language, half-way between the semi-transparency of written titles and dialogue and the more or less complete opacity of music and noise. Moreover, it is this which quite logically gives the image as such, as a moving image, the highest degree of cinematic specificity among the matters of expression whose combination, on the other hand, creates many more or less specifically cinematic co-ordina­tions. Until very recently, no doubt, this insistence on the specificity of the image was usually a convenient pretext to subtract the film from any true critical undertaking and to negotiate, as it were, the image in terms of the scenario, ie of contents, themes. But over and above its distortions, its inadequacies, which are as negative as they are idealist, this contradiction did confusedly express something absolutely essential: a highly paradoxical relationship between the moving image and the language which seeks to reveal in the film the filmic text itself. This has been clearly seen since the area was turned upside down by the semiology of the cinema and the first true textual analyses. It is no accident that the only code constituted by Christian Metz has been a syntagmatics of the image band, and if most analyses have concentrated, with a kind of quite explicable impatience and fascination, on the textual workings of the image as it were, expressing a voluntarily agreed restriction that clearly never ceases to transgress its limit, since that limit is iliusory.

This restriction and fascination derive from the paradox introduced by the moving image. On the one hand it spreads in space like a picture; on the other it plunges into time, like a story which its serialisation into units approximates more or less to the musical work. In this it is peculiarly unquotable, since the written text cannot restore to it what only the projector can produce; a move­ ment, the illusion of which guarantees the reality. That is why the reproduction even of many stills only ever reveals a kind of radical inability to assume the textuality of the film. However, stills are essential. Indeed they represent an equivalent, arranged each time according to the needs of the reading, to freeze-frames on the editing table, with the absolutely contradictory function of open­ ing up the textuality of the film just at the moment they inter­ rupt its unfolding. In a sense it is really what is done when stopping at a sentence in a book to re-read it and reflect on it. But then it is not the same movement that is frozen. Continuity is suspended, meaning fragmented; but the material specificity of a means of ex­pression is not interfered with in the same way. The cinema, through the moving image, is the only art of time which, when we go against the principle on which it is based, still turns out to give us something to see, and moreover something which alone allows us to feel its textuality fully: a theatrical play cannot be stopped, unless it has been filmed, nor can a concert, and if a gramophone record is stopped there is simply nothing left to hear. That is why it turns out that despite what it does allow, the gramo­phone record (or the recording tape), which might seem the magical instrument of musical analysis, only apparently resolves a basic contradiction, that of sciund. The frozen frame and the still that reproduces it are simulacra; obviously they never prevent the film from escaping, but paradoxically they allow it to escape as a text. Obviously the language of the analysis is responsible for the rest. It attempts to link together the multiplicity of textual opera­tions between the simulacra of the frozen images 1ike any other analysis. But the analysis of the film thus receives its portion of an inevitability known to no other: not to literary analysis, which constantly makes language return freely to language; nor to the analysis of the picture, which can partly or wholly re-establish its object in the space of the commentary; nor to musical analysis, irreducibly divided between the accuracy of a score and the other­ ness of a performance; nor to that of theatrical representation, where the same division is at once less complete and less precise. In fact, filmic analysis, if it is to take place at all, must take upon itself this rhythmical as well as figurative and actantial narrative component for which the stills are the simulacra, indispensable but already derisory in comparison with what they represent. Thus it constantly mimics, evokes, describes; in a kind of principled despair it can but try frantically to compete with the object it is attempting to understand. By dint of seeking to capture it and recapture it, it ends up always occupying a point at which its object is perpetually out of reach. That is why filmic analyses, once they begin to be precise, and while, for the reasons I have just suggested, they remain strangely incomplete, are always so long, according to the extent of their coverage, even if analysis is, as we know, always in a sense interminable. That is why they are so difficult, or more accurately so ungrateful to read, repetitive, complicated, I shall not say needlessly so, but necessarily so, as the price of their strange perversity. That is why they always seem a little fictional: playing on an absent object, never able, since their aim is to make it present, to adopt the instruments of fiction even though they have to borrow them. The analysis of film never stops filling up a film that never stops running out: it is the Danaids’ cask par excellence. This is what makes the text of the film an unattainable text: but it is so surely only at this price.

Although it would already be to go much further, we might change our point of view completely and ask if the filmic text should really be approached in writing at all. I think a contrario of the wonderful impression I received on two occasions, to cite only these two, when confronted with two quotations in which film was taken as the medium of its own criticism. This was in two broadcasts in the series ‘Cineastes de notre temps‘, on Max Ophiils and Samuel Fuller. One saw, and then resaw while a voice off emphasized certain features, two of the most extraordinary camera movements in the history of the cinema, in which such movements are by no means uncommon. The first in the ball in Le Plaisir, just as the masked figure more and more unsteadily crosses the length of the ball room, then collapses in a box where, beneath the mask of a young man an old one is revealed; the second, in Forty Guns, follows the hero from the hotel he is leaving to the post office to which he goes to send a telegram, and saves for the end of a long dialogue his meeting in a single continuous field with the • forty guns ‘ who race past on horseback on the left side of the frame. Here there is no longer any divergence., no need of narration. A true quotation, in all its obviousness. But this sudden quotability which film allows to film (and in the same way sound to sound) obviously has its other side: will oral language ever be able to say what written language says? And if not, at the price of what changes? Beneath the appearances of an answer a contrario, this is a serious question, economic. social. political, profoundly historical. since it touches on the formidable collusion of writing and Western history in which the written alternately or even simultaneously performs a liberating and repressive function. Can or should the work, be it image or sound, in its efforts to accede to the text, ie to the social utopia of a language without separation, do without the text, free itself from the text?

1. ‘De l’reuvre au texte,’ Revue d’Esthetique n 3, 1971. The quotations that follow are taken from this same article.

2. ‘In its own way the text shares in a social utopia; before History (always supposing the latter does not choose barbarism), the Text achieves, if not the transparency of social relations, at least that of relations of language: it is the space in which no language has an edge on any other, in which languages circulate (retaining the circular sense of the term)… A theory of the Text cannot be satisfied with a metalinguistic exposition; to destroy metalanguage, or at least (for it may be necessary to resort to it for the time being) to cast suspicion on it, is part of the aim of the theory itself : discourse about the Text should never be anything but text itself, textual research and travail, since the Text is that social space that allows no language any shelter outside it, nor any subject of enunciation in the position of judge, teacher, analyst, confessor, decipherer: the theory of the Text cannot but coincide with a practice of writing.’

Further Reading: Raymond Bellour by Michael Goddard,

Camel Crossing

Battle of the Images by Raymond Bellour

First published in French and English “La querelle des dispositifs / Battle of the Images”, in art press no. 262, November 2000, pp.48-52. Translated from the French by L-S.Torgoff.

Les statues meurent aussi

Battle of the Images

Raymond Bellour

If there were an open polemic between today’s competing image delivery systems, some light might at last be shed. As it is, all we have is incertitudes – slip-sliding, straddling, flickering, hybridization, metamorphosing, transition and passages between what is still called cinema and the thousand and one ways to show moving images in the vague and misnomered domain known as Art because it is what art school graduates do.

The convergence about to smack us in the face will mean you can use the same appliance to trade stock, watch a movie, e-mail or make toast. The bottom line is that from now on Intel’s inside everything and our souls are networked, just as for so long “live” meant real-time television as opposed to real life. This means it’s time to reconsider cinema with reference to the only thing that can really distinguish it both from what is now overtaking it and may succeed it and from that which existed before it was born. As Godard put it so succinctly in Histoire{s} du cinema, cinema is film plus project ion, i.e. a recorded image shown on a screen in a dark room. Barthes, not exactly a movie buff, was attracted by the movie house ambience, with its “anonymous, populated, dense darkness” and “the dancing cone cutting a hole in the dark like a laser beam.”

Daney, who did truly love motion pictures, was struck by the motionless silence in which viewers must sit, a state of “frozen vision” with its own history. All this would suggest that movies became what we know today with the advent of the talkies, i.e. the loss of the subtitles and inter-titles that linked them to the theater and the novel, and of the pianist, not to mention the barker,a relic of still more ancient forms of entertainment. It took the first “death of cinema” twenty or thirty years ago to bring back and sanctify silent movies, and for the occasional orchestra or pianist to transform the movie theater into a museum. But above all, as Chris Marker, following Godard, said so well in his CD-ROM Immemory, where a second “death of cinema” is foretold, “Cinema is that which is bigger than we are, what you have to look up at. When a movie is shown small and you have to look down at it,it loses its essence … What you see on TV is the shadow of a film, nostalgia for a film, the echo of a film, never a real film.” Movies were unrivaled and never anything but movies for only a generation or two, depending on when TV started in your local time zone.But since then, despite being surrounded, cinema has continually reinvented itself. And because film continues to be a mirror of the world, as the Lumiere brothers and the first nineteenth-century moving picture machinery in­ tended, a critic’s job is not just to distinguish between good and bad movies but also to diagnose in certain symptomatic films whatever it is that remains of that intended essence and thus evaluate the state of the movies in relation to all the other image systems from which it is under siege.

This was what Daney was doing when he pointed out the degree to which today’s movies are cheating on cinema historically by unabashedly incorporating advertising iconography and hi-tech images. Thus Gladiator mixes whatever remains of Spartacus these days with synthetic dream sequences produced by Imagina software. But on the other hand, there also persists a stubbornly determined effort to make movies in the movie-making tradition, as if film were still alone in the world (the two extremes of this trend are marked by Straub-Huillet and Kiarostami). There are also those who bear ferociously despairing but joyful wit­ness to the new deal, as noted by Daney, observing in Fellini and Godard a passage from “natural” motion pictures to motionless pictures, as the cinema expe­rience becomes one of the spectator’s virtual activity when faced with new, more or less immobile images.

In Smoking No Smoking, Resnais gave us a fictional parallel of wired multiple reality and a narrative that mimics the possibilities of interactivity. With Level Five, Marker invented not the first movie to integrate IT (such firsts are necessarily American) but the first to integrate all the various levels of mutation brought about by the computer in terms of historical memory, subjective destiny and filmmaking. Like Astruc with his “camera-pen,” Marker evokes as lucidly as ever a “possible cinema” enabled by today’s new tools, a “cinema of intimacy, solitude, a cinema worked out face-to-face with yourself, like a painter or a writer.” But “you can’t shoot Lawrence of Arabia like that, or Andrei Roublev or Vertigo.” In other words, it rules out the best Hollywood-style block­ buster tradition, great Russian cinema and the finest auteur movies. All of this may be doomed, because Marker’s concept of “possible cinema” goes along with three gestures of acceptance, on his part, of the “honorable destiny” of the “death of cinema.” The first is his commentator-filmmaker who acts as a guide to this death in the perspicacious and moving homage to Tarkovsky (A Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich), in contrast to Godard’s approach in Histoire(s). The second is Marker’s long-term interest in video instal­lations from Zapping Zone (for Passages de /’Image) to his homage to the Silent Movie. The third is his CD­ ROM Immemory, a new genre of self-portrait, both installed in museums and sold like a book.

Or take Chantal Akerman. Twice now she has given in to some felt need to submit her films to the test of installation. With O’Est(au bord de la Fiction) , she has done exactly the right thing, transforming this movie three times in order to create an installation that compares the three un-movie-like display systems through which nearly all films today are shown:museum pseudo-movie theaters, multiple video screens, and television at its best, as a box for experimentation and thought. Projection, circulation, mediation; viewer, stroller-visitor, contemplator — all these physical and mental positions at the service of a single content. Technically lighter but no less significant is her installation now on view in Paris at the “Voila” exhibition, after Boston, New York, London and Brussels; Self-portrait/Autobiography : a Work in Progress. Here there are three monitors in front of which visitors station themselves – the O’Est principle again,but three monitors instead of the eight-times-three. Visitors can sit down in front of two screens to see Jeanne Dielman and the effect is decidedly un-movie-like – each screen shows a dif­ferent parallel narrative; and a single set-back moni­tor offers excerpts from Toute une nuit and Hotel Monterey. A voice-over accompanies the whole thing, Akerman reading excerpts from her book Une Famille a Bruxelles. This is a sort of a documentary about movies, as seen by the filmmaker herself, delivered up in space and transformable in keeping with place and time. This is all the more exciting when at the same time Akerman is presenting La Captive. her most pure and complete work of fiction, one of those films that seem increasingly unlikely these days, and in which cin­ ema achieves a sovereign brilliance.

Such is the un-demarcated tension that calls for a response. When filmmakers give in to the temptation of installation, what is it that they are surrendering to? Raul Ruiz, Peter Greenaway, Atom Egoyan, Harun Farocki, Alexandr Sokurov and Raymond Depardon (I am deliberately skipping the already-classic installation films of seasoned experimental cineastes such as Snow, Sharits, etc.) – they all have their own unique form of spatialization, settings, objects and simulta­neous projections with no time constraints. In a word, they invent one-off setups where, no matter how unique their films may be, each of them puts a little of the movies in the overall mechanism. Further, in the course of their exhibitions, their work is necessarily compared and contrasted with artworks of a differ­ ent order, from photos to installations and all of the innumerable varieties of media and form now fully appropriated by the fine arts. Clearly filmmakers often give in to the wishes of curators. But that hardly alters the question and does nothing to solve the mystery of the mutating works themselves.

Auto-biography of a man whose memory was in his eyes is one of the innumerable versions of Jonas Mekas’ endless diary. But instead of seeing it in one of its possible continuous versions during a structured movie theater showing, in the exhibition at the Paris municipal modern art museum we see it redistributed in three small screening cabins organized around three elements as if this were a CD-ROM. Even more CD-like, outside these non-projection rooms stands a vitrine stuffed with documentation.

Or take another small but perverse displacement, Visione de/deserto conceived by Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi for the “Deserts” show at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. A row of seats in the back mimics the movies, but in accord with the exhibition visitors’ trajectory, light comes in from the hall, spoiling the movie experi­ence. To avoid it visitors can sit on the cushions piled up along the wall and watch the film sideways. At the entrance, show times have been posted,just like at the movies. The film is the same and yet not really the same as one would see projected in a real movie house, or, for better or worse, recycled on TV.

On the other hand, there are some installations that could not exist without the movies. Revisited, remade, reworked and reduced to slivers,in these pieces film is taken hostage by someone else’s craving for art. Such works comprise a real fantasy of what is being lost, above all because of television, in both art and the movies. But there are also enterprises that evince a twisted and ridiculous desire to pump new life into exhausted art by infusing it with movies in an unsuccessful act of vampirization, a vain attempt at mouth-to- mouth resuscitation between art forms.

Witness David Reed’s insertion of one of his canvases into a sequence form Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as analyzed by Arthur Oanto in After the End of Art. There are also works that through an insanely exaggerated fascination end up teaching us something about both art and cinema – for instance, Douglas Gordon’s take on Hitchcock, from Empire to Feature Film. Between filmmakers drawn to installation art and “artists” for whom movies are raw material,there pulsates an enormous and protean mass of all kinds of installations (from Beat Streuli’s photographic dioramas to James Turrell’s rooms of pure light). For a long time they were dependent on the ideological effects of television and the inherent nature of video itself. Using the most diverse approaches, many of them gradually drew closer to cinema, reappropri­ating certain elements of the machinery of the movies as well as cinematic modes of Figuration and narrative postures — so much so that we can vaguely hypothesize the existence of an alternative cinema.

Two noteworthy examples of this at the 1999 Venice Biennale were the pieces by Doug Aitken and Shirin Neshat. The latter’s new work, Rapture, a more complex piece using the same principle of one monitor for each gender, was a hit at the Lyon Biennale. Faced with these shifts and media straddling, what is a poor critic to do? It would seem incumbent upon us to evaluate these works, in cases where that is worth the effort, from the point of view of dueling image delivery systems, at least in the implicit sense.

For example, it is important to note that so far this year we have already seen two films where the sound track is designed to be created live during the projection, like certain experimental efforts of the 1920s. Manuela Morgaine’s Va, about Casanova, comprises two shorts, one a talkie and the other silent,with the latter’s sound effects added live in Front of the screen (Morgaine defines this as “a kind of theater meant to take place in the Front of a movie theater”). Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s ipanema Theory, a very long documentary about the urban environment, is accompanied by invasive music improvised in a sound booth by two new-genre DJs. It was astonish­ing, during the brief discussion that followed the screening, to hear Gonzalez-Foerster tell a theater full of people who had been sitting for two hours that her “film” would be equally suitable for an open-air night-time showing. This is a fascinating indecisiveness that indicates the degree to which things are slipping out of control.

Anyone who attends exhibitions and showings cannot fail to notice the migrations big and small resulting from various mixes of media and presentation systems. It seems a bit premature – you never know – to theorize this phenomenon. Certainly we could see a cautionary tale in the sorry Fate of art theory since World War II, especially in the U.S., where the irresistible urge to concoct canons and labels in the name of painting or the so-called visual arts, of modernism or postmodernism, drew its self-justifi­cation from art history as if the latter were its own private reserve.It would seem wiser to stick to what Foucault called “the basic tasks of description.” That means, today, more than ever, grasping all the arts as part of one single ensemble and analyzing each work in terms of its mix of different art forms, particularly in terms of media, or the artist’s choice of confining oneself to one mechanism alone. What exactly, for example, is Moments de Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jean-Louis Boissier ‘s interactive CD-ROM? A film? A book? A picture album?

This is an unmistakable sign of an aesthetics of confusion about which we still know very little. It seems that computers have gone way beyond the TV that they are about to subsume and are the first machines able to make use of all modes of language and expression, and to transform one into another and modulate them any way anyone wants. They can even simulate installations and play movies.Thus cinema — an impure art, as Bazin said, because it draws its inspiration from all the others and has nothing of its own to offer except reality – is, paradoxically, becoming gradually more pure insofar as its most active verity is becoming that of its mode of display. Cinema will forever be unique, in relation to all the modes that previously seemed similar and also to those that imitate it and parody it today. The most twentieth-century form of art, it is at once more crowded-in now than ever and more alone in its splendor.

Trafic and Serge Daney by Raymond Bellour

Published here:

Trafic and Serge Daney

Raymond Bellour

When Serge Daney decided to found Trafic, a ‘cinema review’, at the start of the 1990s, he began from the ‘realisation that the intellectual landscape in which cinema exists has changed a great deal. Changed to the extent that the traditional ways of writing about cinema do not “bite” anymore in relation to the reality of classic literary cinephilic consumption’. (1) Daney aimed thus at the way that we can live the cinema according to its current state, but at the same time attending to it in its largest possible sense. Undetermined, in the first instance, by the appearance of films as they are released in cinemas or at Film Festivals. Rather, a far more multiple ‘currency’, relating as much to the increasingly diverse evolutions of cinema around the world as to all the various modes of reflecting upon films, and to the life that is lived in their company.

For someone like Daney, who in the 1970s had directed the most prestigious monthly in the history of cinephilia (namely, Cahiers du cinéma), then worked for the ‘cinema’ section of a daily newspaper open (like few others) to current events in culture (namely, Libération), it was a matter, above all, with Trafic (a quarterly publication), of finding a different tempo. A time that is essentially free and vagabond, where it was as much a question of re-seeing as of seeing, and above all of composing an unexpected kind of ‘currency’, defined by the ongoing experiences of each Committee member of the journal, and of every author invited to contribute to it. So this presumes that, in Trafic, the desire to write always takes precedence. ‘Which is a way of saying’, according to Daney, ‘that the intrinsic quality of the texts will always win out over the relative opportunity of their subjects’. Thus it is that this ‘cinema review’ becomes – doubtless alone in the entire world of publications of comparable ambition – a magazine bereft of images, apart from a modest vignette on the cover. Because, in Trafic, it is above all a matter of showing how it is possible to think and write images.

In his programmatic text, Daney enumerated eight types of text destined to co-exist in the magazine. ‘1. Highly personal “chronicles” following, from day to day, what is current in cinema. 2. “Letters From …”, written in a deliberately epistolary style, coming from isolated, faraway friends at the ends of the earth. 3. Texts belonging to cinema’s past (whether French or otherwise) that have become unavailable. 4. Texts by filmmakers, of a “work in progress” nature, moments of assessment, stages or elements in the working process. 5. Texts more precisely dedicated to the “image” in general, and to the way in which such images illuminate, or are illuminated by, the cinema. 6. Free interventions by philosophers, writers, novelists. 7. Regular essays, cinephilic but gregarious’. Daney could also have specified that the magazine also pursues, as part of its vocation, the translation of many foreign texts – in order to reverse the dominant tendency in France, especially in approaches to cinema, towards national self-sufficiency. But the presence in the first issue of Trafic, out of fourteen texts, of Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Rossellini (presented by Adriano Aprà), Joao Cesar Monteiro, Robert Kramer and Bill Krohn was enough to make that point. And the ratio, since then, has only increased.

Already consumed by AIDS at the moment of this first issue, Daney only lived long enough to see the first three instalments of this adventure of a magazine which meant more to him than anything else. But a drive had been initiated, which would then be continued, strengthened, developed and varied, thanks to the energy of an Editorial Committee formed as a collective, comprising Jean-Claude Biette, Sylvie Pierre, Patrice Rollet and myself. After Biette’s sudden death in 2003, and the realisation of an enormous 50th issue, both a celebration and a retrospective, the idea of which (titled ‘What is Cinema?’) we had conceived with him, we added an Advisory Committee comprising close friends of the magazine since its inception, people who stood for its many vocations: writer Leslie Kaplan, filmmaker Pierre Léon, philosopher Jacques Rancière, film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, art historian and writer Jean Louis Schefer. Each one helps us, in their own way, to fashion the image of a singular cinema magazine.

If I had to define Trafic in terms of its refusals, they would be positioned at two extremes: on the one hand, the facilities that are far too common in journalistic criticism, and on the other hand the closures of traditional university writing. But both film critics and university teachers write, of course, for Trafic, provided they are carried away by a project of thought and style in which they are deeply engaged, and closely wedded to their choice of object as well as their personal sensibility. Parallel to a continuous reflection on the great works of cinema, whether classical or modern (Mizoguchi, Walsh, Antonioni, Fassbinder, Ozu, Syberberg, Minnelli, Hitchcock, Lang, Ford … with two special issues devoted to these last three names), we have always chosen to support – by asking them to participate, whenever possible, in the life of the magazine – a certain group of filmmakers, as diverse as possible, including (naturally) experimental filmmakers: for example, Manoel de Oliveira, Chris Marker, Stephen Dwoskin, Chantal Akerman, Edgardo Cozarinsky, Ken Jacobs, Pedro Costa, Jonas Mekas, Philippe Garrel, Angela Ricci Lucchi and Yervant Gianikian, Robert Kramer, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Abbas Kiarostami, Harun Farocki, and Philippe Grandrieux.

Extract from an essay published in the Masterclass booklet of the Jeonju International Film Festival, Korea, 2009.

1. These words by Daney, like those that follow, are extracted from the short programmatic text which accompanied publication of the first issue of Trafic in Winter 1991.
© Raymond Bellour March 2009. English Translation © Adrian Martin March 2009.

Bellour + Beaujour on the Self-Portrait

If we must finally find one word to describe what Odenbach makes, let us use ‘self-portrait’—as literary tradition conceived it, as it has been redefined by a certain auteur cinéma, and as today’s video permits in a clearer, more natural way. The self-portrait is this idiosyncratic literary genre whose logic has been described, and genealogy traced, in a book by Michel Beaujour. Unlike autobiography, which tells the story of a life, the self-portrait tells only the story of an I: it is less interested in events, and its progression is defined by a single movement around the endlessly repeated question, “Who am I?” The self-portrait was born, in Montaigne’s Essays (1580), from a transformation of classical rhetorical procedures that had organized the representation of the world and discourse and set the rules for invention and memory. All of this, in the self-portrait, is redirected toward the person who writes to know him or herself better—only to discover in the act of writing a mere fleeting proof of his or her identity. The system of places and images and the analogical and encyclopedic functions that are so powerful in classical rhetoric are always at the origin of the text: but they exist autonomously, and the book somehow becomes an end in itself. Even if the self-portrait has changed only minimally (Beaujour dwells on its value as a transhistorical model), it thus becomes a highly modern genre, which, from the 19th century on, embraces all the avatars of the crisis of representation, and triumphs in today’s literature from Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, to Michel Leiris’ The Rules of the Game, André Malraux’s Anti-Memoirs, and Roland Barthes’ Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. In a way it even partakes of its own definition: the self-portrait is not really a genre, since it is more than a genre.
Raymond Bellour, Between-the-Images, trans. Allyn Hardyck, JRP|Ringier Kunstverlag AG and Les presses du réel, 2012, 295

Self-Portrait - Bellour + Beaujour

Warranting special attention among the typical texts of the sixteenth century are those that, not classified under any recognized genre, overflow the bounds of literary art: the miscellanea and diverse and motley compilations share at least one feature: they gather fragments under more or less traditional headings. All these texts are premature products: they give the public raw or barely processed materials. Their role is to mediate between a producer – classical antiquity – and a user – the modern poet, the orator. The semiprocessed state is the result of a set of activities: reading/writing (copying), grouping together (collecting or collating), and sometimes commentary (intercalated text, moralization, philology). These works, though not designed to persuuade, praise, or blame, still serve to instruct and also to please and surprise by the variety and strangeness of the examples they assemble. They are not intended for aesthetic, hedonistic, or consecutive reading, since they are readymade commonplace books whose function is transitive and instrumental. Constituting a pseudomemory, or an exomemory, like a reference library, they furnish the raw material for a second-degree intervention, for a secondary elaboration aimed at producing literary works of art, which, in principle, would usually be subject to rhetorical, stylistic, and generic imperatives, as well as to criteria such as the verisimilitude of mimesis. According to Quintilian’s metaphor designating rhetorical memory, these centos form “treasure houses of eloquence.” They are not themselves eloquent, nor do they contain writing as presence unto itself, but they are easily accessible, and as they handily substitute for individual memory and its vagaries, they are emblematic of the new typographic age. Individual memory stopped serving a crucial function in the production of discourses when two cultural conditions were met:

1. When the solitary writer had within arm’s reach a reference library complete enough to form, virtually at least, an encyclopedia. Montaigne’s library combines the metaphorical circularity of the encyclopedia with the circular bookshelves along the walls of his round tower. One need only be adept at looking up data, but as every user of the dictionary, encyclopedia, compilation, index, bibliography, and library knows (as opposed to the user of much more specifically programmed electronic memories), there occurs a dispersion, whether because his attention is deflected by something for which he is not looking, or because he finds, next to what he was searching for, more pertinent data. From the end of the sixteenth century on, the writer becomes accustomed to leafing through printed books, to consulting indexes and tables of contents; even if Montaigne does not use a card index, at least he is already in the position of a modern researcher prior to the introduction of electronic memories. With this exception however: Montaigne claims to find what he needs without looking for it.

2. Memory becomes less important when texts, not being designed to praise or blame, to persuade, exhort, or preach, no longer has to obey rhetorical codes of composition and style, one of whose functions in scribal culture was to make it easier for the listener-reader to understand and remember data by introducing a coded redundance, or copia, which was moreover the object of an aesthetic appreciation. So great is the disdain of Montaigne’s task for these obsolete imperatives that the reader has difficulty in remembering the order and tenor of the Essays’ long chapters. The Essays are indeed, in this sense, antimemoirs.
Michel Beaujour, Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait, trans. Yara Milos, New York: New York University Press, 1991, 111-113. [orig. Miroirs d’encre: Rhéthorique de l’autoportrait, Paris: Seuil, 1980]

Bellour Marker Forever

Chris Marker Second Life

“I was 22 when my friend Jean Michaud and I imprudently imagined an ‘Apology for Chris Marker’ on the model offered by Plato. I was 24 when, on the spiral staircase leading to, among other things, the ‘Petite Planète’ office at Éditions du Seuil, Marker pleaded with me – the word that comes is too strong but I can find no other – or asked me not to write a little book on his films, which already constituted an oeuvre, for the ‘Cinéastes d’aujourd’hui’ series, in its early days at the times. I had been asked to do so by Pierre Lherminier, following one I had written on Alexandre Astruc. It was just after La Jetée (hailed in the last issue of Artsept, our Lyon-based journal, where Marker had been a permanent guest). Of course I have not written the book, nor any other on Marker. May these few pages stand in their stead, following so many writings over the years, written for a living man, with respect, admiration and friendship across distance.”
Raymond Bellour, “Marker Forever”, Cat Without a Grin (Whitechapel catalogue), p. 74.

Wexner now offering Owls at Noon

Owls at Noon

Chris Marker: Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men
Chris Marker, Adrian Martin, Raymond Bellour
Institute of Modern Art, Australia

A heavily illustrated study of French filmmaker Chris Marker’s portentous video installation Owls At Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men, with essays by Adrian Martin and renowned French film theorist Raymond Bellour. Introduced by Robert Leonard.

Schreiben Bilder Sprechen

“Schon Alexandre Astrucs Vision von der Caméra-Stylo liegt der Gadanke zugrunde, Bilder schreiben zu können.”
– Christa Blümlinger

Schreiben Bilder Sprechen: Texte zum essayistischen Film

Hrsg. Christa Blümlinger und Constantin Wulff
Wein: Sonderzahl, 1992


I. Versuch als Form
Christa Blümlinger: Zwischen den Bilder/Lesen
Birgit Kämper: Sans Soleil – “ein Film erinnert sich selbst”
Raymond Bellour: Zwischen Sehen und Verstehen [Sechs Filme (en passant); “Der Brief sagt noch”]
Karl Sierek: Stimme Lotse auf der Reise Du
Martin Schaub: Filme als Briefe

II. Gespräche
Selbst-Bilder des Kinos
Praktische Filmkritik

III. Filmisches Denken
Frieda Grafe: Der bessere Dokumentarfilm, die gefundene Fiktion
Harun Farocki: Unregelmässig, nicht regellos
Thomas Tode: Demontage des definitiven Blicks
Bill Krohn: Welles: Fernsehen und der Essayfilm
Hartmut Bitomsky: Nanooks Lächeln

IV. Materialien
Hans Richter: Der Filmessay, Eine neue Form des Dokumentarfilms
Alexandre Astruc: Die Geburt einer neuen Avantgarde: die Kamera als Federhalter
André Bazin: Lettre de Sibérie
Edgar Reitz, Alexander Kluge, Wilfried Reinke: Wort und Film

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